Research Mentor Name

Hilary Marusak

Research Mentor Email Address

Institution / Department

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Document Type

Research Abstract

Research Type


Level of Research



Fear-based disorders, including anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, are more prevalent in females than males. Steroid hormones (e.g., estradiol) are involved in fear extinction learning and later recall—a process implicated in the pathophysiology of fear-based disorders. Fear-based disorders commonly emerge during the transition from childhood to adolescence, a period marked by the onset of puberty and a natural increase of steroid hormones. Here, we examined the effects of puberty, sex, and their interaction on extinction recall and underlying neural circuitry in youth. Eighty-five youth (6-17 years, 46% female) completed a two-day Pavlovian fear extinction paradigm while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Conditioned fear was measured using unconditioned stimulus expectancy ratings during extinction recall. We examined the effects of biological sex, puberty (early, mid/late), and the sex-by-puberty interaction on expectancy ratings and frontolimbic region activity. There were no significant main effects or interactions of sex-by-puberty on expectancy ratings (p’s>0.05). However, there was a significant sex-by-puberty interaction for activity in the left hippocampus, right hippocampus, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (p5). Among males, brain activity was higher for early pubertal youth as compared to mid/late pubertal youth. Conversely, in females, frontolimbic activity was lower for early pubertal youth as compared to mid/late pubertal youth. These findings suggest that frontolimbic activation during extinction recall varies by both puberty and sex. This insight can potentially enhance our understanding of sex differences in risk for fear-based disorders and may pave the way for developing novel treatment options.


Medical Neurobiology | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental Disorders | Neurology | Neurosciences | Psychiatry